Welcoming speech of Vice Minister Vytautas Leškevičius at a reception to mark the end of the Lithuanian Presidency in the European Parliament

02 January 2014, Last updated at, 15:43 EET
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author: European Parliament

Mr President, President of the European Court of Human Rights, Honourable Members, Ladies and Gentlemen, Dear Guests.

For you in the European Parliament, Council Presidencies come and go. Ours is the ninth Presidency you have worked with during the current Parliamentary term.

For us in Lithuania, however, we have thought of little else these past few years. It’s hard to believe that our turn in the driving seat of the Council is nearly over, and that we shall soon be resuming the role of back-seat driver. I know that some of you in this House have a slightly jaundiced view of a different member state taking over the wheel at six-monthly intervals. As well as having to adjust to new Ministers with strange accents in Plenary debates, your Rapporteurs and Committees are obliged to negotiate with a different cast of officials and politicians with their own agendas. But I hope you will agree that recent months have been a bit of a roller-coaster. Quite a spectacular one these past few weeks. We began, before the summer, eyeing each other warily. Delicately poised negotiations on the Multiannual Financial Framework and Budget for 2014 required us to maintain a degree of reserve.

But it was the agreement we reached in those budget talks, putting the Union’s resources to the service of its people, that has defined the Lithuanian Presidency.

Because agreement on the Budget has opened the floodgates to a raft of far-reaching legislation that directly affects the lives of Europe’s citizens – from agriculture to regional policy; from research to culture; and above all for students and young people in search of a job.

I have watched with pride and amazement as dossier after dossier has emerged through the legislative pipeline. All technically complex. All with a capacity to transform lives. All demonstrating what you do so well in this Parliament.

I pay tribute to all of you whose hard work has helped these measures reach the statute book. I thank you for your cooperation and professionalism, your energy and your passion.

That so much complex legislation is adopted so efficiently is a remarkable achievement. It shows the system set out in the Lisbon Treaty is working. And this is in no small measure down to you. I hope it is appreciated by the voters next May.

With progress towards Banking Union and on completing the internal energy market, our achievements together are showing the European Union to be credible, as well as an engine for growth.

We have also shown ourselves to be open to the world. Agreement last week on External Financing Instruments secured the EU’s place as the leading global provider of development assistance. TTIP negotiations with the United States are now well underway. And there was even a welcome breakthrough at the WTO Ministerial in Bali last week.

But as on any adventure, our journey this past six months has not been without its mishaps.

We set out in the Lithuanian Presidency to demonstrate to our Eastern neighbours that the offer of partnership with the European Union was genuine and meaningful. We put heart and soul into that effort, working closely with Commissioner Fule and with Pat Cox and Aleksander Kwasniewski from your own monitoring mission.

This led, of course, to consequences that none of us foresaw. One was that you all got better acquainted with Lithuanian cheese – like Dziugas, an excellent, if unusual, hard cheese.

Our dairy industry is still suffering restrictions on its exports to Russia. But the solidarity shown by the EU in standing up to this bullying from Moscow has been gratifying. We are delighted that the Vilnius Summit brought Moldova and Georgia several steps closer to the EU. Equally, no one is more disappointed than us that signature of an Association Agreement with Ukraine has been put on hold.

As we nervously watch events unfold on the streets of Kiev, we should perhaps invoke the spirit of Nelson Mandela whose peaceful quest for freedom and democracy inspired millions. This is Ukraine’s moment to rise to the aspirations of its people. It cannot be long before we are saying “hard cheese” to Moscow.

I mustn’t allow my remarks this evening to sound as if we have reached the end. We still have one of the busiest weeks of our Presidency ahead of us. Besides the European Council, and numerous appearances by Lithuanian Ministers before your Committees, we have yet to navigate the all-important business of the Fisheries Council - which, as you will understand, is loaded with much more than fish.

But I do want to take this opportunity to thank you, collectively and individually, on behalf of all the Ministers and officials in the Lithuanian Presidency team, for your cooperation and friendship. It has been a truly rewarding and happy partnership.

In handing over the reins to my Greek counterpart, Dimitris Kourkoulas, I can say in all honesty that the role I have had these past few months has been like nothing else. It has been an incredible experience, one which I would not have missed for the world. Thank you for joining the Lithuanian Presidency on the drive of a lifetime. Thank you for joining me this evening. I ask you now to raise your glasses, and to join me in saying “Į sveikatą!”

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